Ajami director’s brothers to file complaint for 'abuse'

"Police told me they’d kick all the Arabs out of Jaffa," says one brother.

February 8, 2010 23:05
4 minute read.
Police detain Tony Copti (center right) and his br

ajami directors cute brother 311. (photo credit: AP)

A lawyer for two brothers of Ajami director Scandar Copti said Monday that he plans to file a complaint with the Police Investigations Department, following an incident Saturday night in which the two men were allegedly beaten and sprayed with mace by Jaffa police.

The two say police also showered them with racial epithets.

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Attorney Giora Zilberstein, who represents Jirias and Tony Copti, told the Jerusalem Post on Monday that he would arrange to speak with senior police officers from the Yiftah precinct to determine what took place, and would be preparing an official complaint to present to internal affairs.

“It appears they used excessive force and decided to further escalate an already tense situation. We will speak to police officials and decide where to proceed from there,” Zilberstein said.

Last Tuesday, Ajami was selected as one of five nominees for the best foreign film Oscar, to be awarded on March 7 in Los Angeles. The film presents a grim portrayal of the neighborhood Ajami in the mixed Jewish-Arab city of Jaffa, in which drugs and violence plague the lives of residents, and relations with the police are always tense.

In one scene, police move in to arrest a drug dealer played by Tony Copti, as residents swarm the scene, scuffling with police and disrupting the arrest.

The real-life incident took place Saturday night, when neighborhood witnesses say a police patrol stopped a group of young men they saw digging a hole, suspecting that they were taking part in some sort of criminal activity. Residents maintained that the group was burying a dog that had been run over nearby. Shortly thereafter, Tony Copti arrived, and, according to residents, was arrested and attacked with pepper spray by police before being carted away. Witnesses said that as Copti was being carried away, police aggressively arrested Jirias, who had run over to inquire what was taking place.

A similar breakdown of events was told by Zilberstein, who said police had taken a tense situation and, instead of calming it down, ordered reinforcements and used force, further escalating the situation.

Police stated Sunday that the Copti brothers had attacked police, disturbed the peace and disrupted the arrest – a version of events they and Zilberstein deny.

Speaking to the Jerusalem Post on Monday, Jirias Copti broke down in tears, describing Saturday’s incident as “something that will stay with me for the rest of my life,” adding that he “can’t even speak about what happened without crying.”

Copti, who like his brother Tony has no criminal record, said that he had left work when he saw police cars crowded near his house and walked over to see what was happening. He said he decided to not get involved and began walking away, when he felt hands grab him from behind and handcuff him.

“For me, having police put handcuffs on me is something out of a movie, something I’ve never experienced before,” said Jirias Copti, who is pursuing a master’s degree in engineering.

Copti said he had then seen his brother being carried away by his legs, his face red from the effects of pepper spray. He said police told him they had used pepper spray on his brother, but not to worry, as the effects would soon wear off.

Jirias Copti said that after arriving at the police station, he had been taken to an interrogation room where police repeatedly used pepper spray on him, a pain he described as “impossible to put into words.” He said police had begun beating and threatening him, using racial epithets and vowing “to go to Jaffa and kick all of you Arabs out.”

He also accused police of saying, “You know, what we did in Gaza in Cast Lead is nothing compared to what we’ll do to you in Jaffa.”

Copti said he could hear his brother Tony in the other room, screaming in pain and shouting his name at the time of his own alleged beating.

According to Jirias Copti, their lawyer then arrived and began to demand their release, several hours after undergoing abuse during the interrogation. He added that police had since then become aware that they were brothers of the filmmaker who created Ajami, and asked the two to sign a pledge that they would not press charges or speak to the media about the arrest.

They were then let go with no charges filed and ordered to stay outside of Jaffa for three days. Jirias Copti was hospitalized with severe headaches, but doctors let him go after they said they found no serious internal or external wounds.

From Ramle, where he is staying with family, Jirias Copti said that since the arrests, “all types of people from Jaffa have contacted me and tried to make me feel better by telling me it’s not personal, this happens all the time to people in Jaffa.”

However, he said such calls did not comfort him: “This only made me more upset, to realize that things like this happen to all types of people on a regular basis. I didn’t understand the police acted like this.”

M., a neighbor who witnessed the event, sounded less surprised by Saturday’s events.

“Arab residents of Jaffa feel that police treat them differently and treat youngsters like they’re all criminals,” M. said. “This is the way it is in Jaffa. People are sick of it – they’re sick of being harassed by police while sitting outside of their houses.”

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